1998-11-16.iwj.2: Position and Promises about Intellectual Property

November 16th, 1998

1. Introduction

Amongst the services Software in the Public Interest, Inc. ('SPI') is willing to provide to the free software community is the ownership and management (if requested) of intellectual property and the necessary enforcement. Intellectual property has a controversial status in the community. SPI takes the view that the use of intellectual property law to the benefit of free software is justified, at least as a necessary evil in current circumstances.

All forms of IPR (Intellectual Property 'Rights') are dangerous as they represent a legal monopoly on certain activities; these activities cannot be performed without permission (licence) from the IPR owner. SPI has therefore adopted the following principles about the IPR which it owns and manages, as part of its informal social contract with the community.

2. Principles

(i) IPR owned by SPI will be managed by in the best interests of the free software community.

(ii) Day-to-day decisionmaking about IPR owned by SPI will usually be delegated to its rightful managers, as appointed by its originators, and their successors, according to SPI's Framework for Associated Projects.

(iii) SPI distinguishes between 'Global IPR' and 'Local IPR', defined as follows: Global IPR affects the whole free software development effort or very substantial parts of it; Local IPR affects only particular parts of the free software movement, such as those using, working on or distributing particular pieces of software or projects.

(iv) Local IPR owned by SPI will be managed, enforced, and disposed of according to the decisions of its originators and their successors, so long as these decisions do not plainly oppose the goals of SPI and the free software community. Unless there is good reason to believe otherwise, the wishes of its rightful managers will be assumed to be in the best interests of the community.

(v) Important decisions about Global IPR owned by SPI will be taken only after consultation with the free software community. Decisions will be made according to the rough consensus of the community, unless this is unreasonable or impossible. Unless there is good reason to believe otherwise, the wishes of the entire free software community will be assumed to be in the best interests of that community.

3. Software Copyright

SPI does not encourage software authors to assign copyright in their work to SPI. It is usually in everyone's best interests for the original author to retain their copyright, and to release it under a good free software licence such as the GNU General Public License (preferably stating 'version 2 or, at your option, any later version').

Nevertheless, in some circumstances authors may wish to assign software copyright to SPI. In this case SPI will release the software under the GNU General Public License unless the nature of software requires a less restrictive licence. In any case SPI will release such software under a licence compatible with the GNU GPL.

If software copyright assigned to SPI is shared with other people or organisations, and the licences do not permit release under the GNU GPL then SPI will do its best to improve the situation, by releasing the software under as good a licence as possible and encouraging other joint copyright holders to improve their licences.

4. Software Patents and User Interface Copyright

SPI is opposed to the existence of software patents, and the practice of attempting to claim copyright on users interfaces. SPI supports the work of the League for Programming Freedom.

If SPI comes to hold any user interface copyrights then they will be freely licensed or given into the public domain.

Unfortunately, given the current legal situation with software patents it is sometimes necessary to use patents as a defensive measure. SPI will only use any software patents it owns in a nonaggressive way, for mutual defence, as defined in 'Mutual Defense Against Software Patents' [League for Programming Freedom, 28 Jan 1994,

http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/mutual-def.html

(Note: As of May 2008, http://progfree.org/Patents/mutual-def.html is the current location of this document.)].

5. Other IPR

Other kinds of IPR, including other copyrights and patents, will be managed according to SPI's principles, with a presumption that such IPR should be licensed or managed in a way that allows the most freedom by users and developers and is in the best interest of SPI and the free software community.